Chloe Lawson describes the experience of feeling trapped in your own house, observing neighbours existing, and life passing by.
20th November 2019
NB- short piece written at not so great a time which, happily, is behind me!
Artwork: Part of a series of photographic works exploring dynamics of the outsider and the questions raised of observing interactions without hearing them. This piece documents my mother and sister speaking in our kitchen during her final school exams.
There are times when I find myself absent-mindedly observing the lives of strangers through the single glazed window of my bedroom. Small glimpses into unknown lives, mere snapshots of an existence as convoluted as mine own. From my bed, I am as transfixed by these illuminated rectangles across the street as if I were watching a sit-com or reality tv. Separated by street and a transparent yet tangible barrier, I am too distanced for them to know that I am watching, unless they too were taking part in the same preoccupying diversion.
This particularly grey and dispirited afternoon, sitting in my whitewashed, rectangular bedroom, I can see a kitchen, glowing with a comforting yellow light. A figure listlessly passes the window at intervals, going about the business of their day in no great hurry. Aside from my deductions, it is impossible to know what they are thinking, what preoccupies them, when their birthday is, if they are in love or lonely. From this distance, there are no revealing clues. Sometimes, they move into the next room and I see them continue their dealings through another rectangular frame. A tiny fragment of their life is revealed to me in minimal detail, but it allows me to wonder.
Below, a whole row of windows is lit with harsh, white, industrial lighting. A spacious and crowded office, three rows of people answering telephones, chatting together, laughing, or transfixed by their screen. Occasionally, a small group will gather in the corner around the photocopier, sharing an anecdote or morsel of workplace gossip. As the heavy clouds of the early evening descend, they will all gradually leave and the lights will flicker out.
If I were to leave my room, go down the corridor to the sitting room, I could sit at the table and look out at the quaint top floor flat above the dry cleaners. The windows have bright blue panes, and one of them is rounded. At Christmas, there will be a sparkling tree in the rounded window. The room visible to an onlooker looks like a small, dimly lit, yet inviting, sitting room and the inhabitants appear to be an elderly couple. If they looked up from their crosswords, they could very easily see me looking at them, but they remain caught up in their own endeavours, in each-other, to wonder about the figure in the opposite window. To me, these lives are mysterious and remote; their thoughts are unattainable. To them, my life is equally unknown. Two objectively insignificant lives separated by panes of glass. Living alongside each other in such close proximity and yet so distant. Neighbours, yet strangers.
I move away from the window, yet the transparent barrier does not always disappear. It feels as if I am observing people in my life through a cage of windows. I am physically present and close, yet something invisible makes me a spectator, watching them interact as if watching a play. In the same room, noticing their actions, yet distant from their thoughts. At times, they seem as far away as the unknown neighbours. To me, they are able to be light with joy aside from the occasional piece of work or relationship problem. This feeling now seems foreign to me, their laughter is something that I cannot translate. Inhabitants of the same house, yet I can see only snippets of their lives. I wonder, when they look at me, if they see me as the neighbours would through the windows? The barrier, like the windows, is transparent yet tangible. I am close yet inexplicably distant. Together, but separate. Neighbours, yet strangers.